Summer Recap Part I

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My summer has been a flippin’ whirlwind. Apologies for the many highly-engaged followers who had many a question fall on deaf Matt ears. I’m back though. Full-throttle.

I thought it would be interesting to give some highlights to what I’ve personally been doing and thinking about over the course of the summer – and how my health has been affected by my actions.

This, of course, is not to be interpreted as any kind of incontrovertible proof – no different from my infamous FUMP experience. My personal adventures in diet and lifestyle certainly have an impact on my thinking. How could they not? Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to.

To make some extra bucks, and take a little reprieve from the computer screen, I took up another summer of working as a Wilderness Ranger. This was my 7th season of doing this since my first stint in 1997. Each summer provided an excellent dietary comparison though.

The job is insanely physical. For 20 weeks I hike with lots of weight on my back over huge mountain passes in some of Colorado’s most rugged terrain. A typical day involves hiking, with anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 feet of vertical ascent, carrying anywhere from 25-65 pounds on my back, walking from 5-20 miles, and stopping to do grunt labor such as cutting trees with a huge ax. The typical day is 10 hours, and at least seven of those hours are spent working very intensely.

The typical exercise recommendation for Americans is like 30 minutes, three times per week – a total of 1.5 hours. Ha! Try 30 hours a week!

Anyway, this quantity of exercise is extremely draining. So draining in fact, that my body temperature dropped significantly during the 20-week time period. Although I can’t be 100% sure, as the thermometer I used over the winter broke and I had to buy a couple of new ones, I really do think my basal temperatures dropped an entire degree (on the old thermometer I never dropped below 97.9… not once. On these two new thermometers my average basal temp in the mornings is all the way under 97.0. This brings up an important point – try lots of thermometers to make sure your body temp really is what it is!).

This brings up what is an incredible myth – that exercise raises your metabolism. That is simply false when it comes to the beliefs about calorie burning and calories used by the body. Exercise uses more calories. If you exercise so much that you can’t possibly eat enough calories to keep up (in my case, I would’ve had to eat about 6,000 calories per day just to break even), then your body must do what? Raise the amount of calories it uses at rest, or lower the amount of calories it uses at rest? The answer is quite simple.

Sure, when you exercise, you use more calories – but that says nothing about your true basal metabolism. My body clearly cut back the amount of calories it burned at rest to conserve energy – a natural and smart response to using more energy than was being supplied.

Aware of this, I ate as much as I could over the summer. I also went ultra “high-everything” for several weeks before the summer began to intentionally gain a few extra pounds (I went from 173 to 178, which took me three to four weeks to pull off).

Despite my efforts to keep the weight from dropping, something I’ve done ever since my first season as a ranger (age 19) when I dropped from over 170 to 155 (and had no increase in muscle definition – meaning that it was almost exclusively a loss of lean body mass), I did have a huge mid-season crash. I lost my appetite and became extremely repelled by food for about two weeks and tanked down to 168. But my appetite did come back and I was able to jump back up to the 173 level, where I stayed, for the remainder of the season.

So basically, for the first time since my 2nd season (age 20), I completed 20 weeks of grueling labor without significant alteration in weight. 173 pre-force-feeding to 173 post-season. I have resumed force-feeding to raise my basal temp, and although it took me nearly a month to go from 173 to 178 before the season while sedentary – I went from 173 to 178 in four days! If that’s not proof of having slowed down basal metabolism with exercise I don’t know what is. Exercise just made it easier to gain weight in a hurry!

In the next post, we’ll talk about what I ate and experimented with. For now, here are my 7 seasons laid out with general changes in body weight, body composition, and corresponding eating habits…

Season 1 – Lost over 15 pounds but hardly noticed, as I had no increase in muscle mass and most of my pants still fit. Diet primarily consisted of breakfast cereals, commercial whole grain breads, jams, jellies, tons of fruit, snacks such as trail mix, and noodles, pastas, etc. for dinner with ample protein from lean fish (canned tuna), and lean meats. Primary fats from olive oil, nuts, and butter in that approximate order.

Season 2 – Didn’t lose an ounce. Thought, after season 1, that I could “eat whatever I wanted” and it wouldn’t matter. Breakfast was typically 6 doughnuts and a quart of chocolate milk, lots of fruit and fruit juice. Typically ate 3-4 pbj’s by 10am. Candy bars and more sandwiches, burritos, etc. for lunch with snacky foods. Dinners more or less the same as season 1 but larger quantities. Fat and overall macronutrient ratios roughly the same with the exception of much greater amounts of vegetable oils from the doughnuts.

Season 3 – Went from 180 to just under 170. Ate more homemade food and less junk, but still had plenty of cereal with reduced fat milk, packaged pastas, commercial bread, fruit, and so on. Had a strong desire to get lean so I didn’t purposefully overeat, but my hunger was insatiable as during season 2.

Season 4 – This season occurred 6 years after season 3 (large time gap). Went from 180 to about 170 like season 3. I was very vegetarian-based at this time. Primary staples were rice, beans, whole grain breads, cereal – now with soy milk instead of reduced fat milk, etc. Ate insane amounts of dark chocolate, but overall tried to eat as little as possible. I did not freely indulge in food like in season 2 for example. Lost a lot more muscle mass and retained more fat than in season 2 or 3. Primary fats from chocolate, nuts, and olive oil.

Season 5 – Went from 180 to about 170 if I recall. I had a raw food fetish at that time, and ate huge amounts of raw vegetables, raw nuts, sprouted raw quinoa, dried fruit, fruit, cacao, goji berries, and so on (typical health geek garbage). I still had a predominantly vegetarian bias leftover from my vegetarian years at that time, but was just starting to incorporate farm fresh foods from “Sustainable Settings”, including grassfed beef, pastured eggs, and pastured chicken. Lost more muscle mass and less fat than in prior seasons. Began having problems with indigestion (acid reflux) after meals for the first time in my life. Also started eating coconut oil at this time with raw honey on sprouted breads, so fats were becoming predominantly saturated at that time (cocoa butter/coconut).

Season 6 – Went from 177-ish to 167. I was blogging during this season (2007). This was when I was pounding meats, raw milk, raw butter/cheese, and keeping carbohydrates low a la Schwarzbein. The season started with me getting extremely defined in comparison to years past. I retained muscle and lost fat. I was unrecognizable compared to prior years. Noticed that I wasn’t tired at the end of the day, yet I couldn’t keep up with co-workers, whereas in years past I would typically outperform them physically, but be exhausted at the end of the day. Seemed phenomenally healthy, almost invincible, for the first half of the season, and had no hunger in between meals for the first time ever while being that active. Even my pet dander-induced asthma vanished. However, skin health and digestive health tanked by the end of the season (huge issues with acid reflux to the point that I couldn’t even drink water without getting indigestion). Pet allergies crept back in.

Season 7 – Just discussed it, but had no significant loss of either body fat or muscle mass for the first time since I was eating a half dozen doughnuts for breakfast every day (ha!), which was the only other season that I didn’t try to restrict something – calories, animal protein, cooked foods, carbs, or calories. Skin improved over the course of the season, and the best part, acid reflux that had been troubling me for three years, completely disappeared. I could pound a quart of ice-cold water with meals and have great digestion. Caloric intake was probably the highest ever as well. My metabolism did slow as discussed, but presumably less than in years past and indicators of health improved, instead of declined, over the course of the season.

14 Comments

  1. So something that comes to mind when I read this at the very end:
    Do you also consider not just the fact that you were exercising a lot – but include the fact that you were eating vegetable oils? I mean, that's pretty much what farmers feed their livestock in order to kill their appetite and make them gain fat. Cheapest methods, of course.

    Other than that, I thought it was a good example of roughly how metabolism works in such a situation. But I'd like to think the dietary factors are as important, and considered as much as how much someone is eating and exerting; the impact that both have on metabolic function.

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  2. So has this changed the way you approach exercise/daily activity in the 'normal' life?

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  3. Matt, you've come a long way, baby!!!

    Great post!

    Gina

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  4. Yes, but eating vegetable oils in season 2 did not make me gain fat or kill my hunger, it just kept me from losing muscle mass due to the extra calories. It seems quite likely that damage was done though, and you'll notice my starting weight of just over 170 in season 1 later became 180 pounds years later – something I attribute to trying to eat less and exercise more. I maintained this general mindset for years and my weight set point crept upward slightly during that time.

    My mindset on exercise and daily life has always been to state that exercise may be a healthy practice overall, but exercising to create a calorie deficit and lose weight is a miserably poor strategy. Just like starvation dieting, overexercising for weight loss, to induce the same caloric deficit, makes one more prone to health problems, addictive eating behavior, and rapid weight gain.

    For those that are incredibly active, the saying should be:

    If you exercise hard, you must eat big – or you force your body to conserve energy by lowering the metabolic rate.

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  5. matt, so can a person have a metabolic disorder but not be over or under weight? besides still retaining a little baby weight, i am neither over nor under weight at the moment, and have only been under weight once in my life when i decided to follow a vegan and then raw vegan diet. i have Raynaud's and the winters really stress me out. i also am hungry all the time (could be b/c i am a nursing mama and i know i don't eat enough calories to keep up) but this has been the case for many years of my adult life and i also think about food all the time. and yet i have a hard time eating very much food at all.

    also i thought it was interesting you mentioned getting heartburn from water b/c i experienced that for the first time during this pregnancy and when i told people that happened to me they looked at me like that was the most ridiculous thing they had ever heard. these are the people who think water is the most nutritious thing a person could ingest and so how could it cause heartburn?! and even 2 months post partum i still occasionally get heartburn from water. and bread and carbs like it. am i totally messed up?

    amanda

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  6. Amanda: Heartburn during pregnancy is usually a matter of physics. The baby is making your stomach tiny and causing regular acid back-ups. They are constantly pushing water on you when you are pregnant (for good reason, dehydration is the most common cause of pre-mature labor) so you may have been filling up on water. Post-pardum, I don't know. Maybe the heartburn is stress related.

    If you have a hard time eating a lot of calories and yet are always hungry, I would concentrate on fats. Fats have the most calories for a small volume. They also can be healing if you have stress issues. I know I didn't get enough fat when I was breast feeding, because I went straight back on Weight Watchers with some added "points" for breast feeding–none of which were fat.

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  7. Hi Matt, I didn't see any discussion of your energy levels in season six and how that compared to earlier seasons . Can you comment on this?

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  8. I wasn't implying that vegetable oils kill hunger and cause fat gain–but that their damage on thyroid would lead to that, as it does on most farm animals who have no room to exercise at all. But of course these two symptoms (loss of hunger, fat gain) are not the only signs of hypothyroidism. As well, body temperature can appear normal and not always indicate correctness of metabolic function.

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  9. Amanda,

    Good to hear from you again. Health problems in general are an outward manifestation of metabolic issues. You certainly don't have to be over or underweight to have metabolic problems. I don't limit the definition of metabolism to mean strictly the amount of calories burned at rest. It's the aggregate of all the biochemical interactions that take place inside our bodies.

    I find too that reducing protein can help stimulate appetite if you feel you really aren't eating enough. Not that one should be paranoid about eating protein, but that often is quite a turn off to other foods if the amount you're ingesting is excessive. Our protein needs, especially when consuming plenty of fats and carbohydrates, are not difficult to obtain. Keep us posted on the harsh upcoming winter. I too struggled for a few years through the winter following my infamous "Wind River Diet." But I've overcome it, and could have done so much more quickly if I'd been consuming real food and not mostly 'health food': chocolate, goji berries, fruit, and caffeinated tea.

    Mike,

    I had stupid energy levels in season 6 compared to all other seasons. Even with such grueling work I was more or less hyper and slept, at most, 6 hours per night. Although some would call this "great," I came to disagree as my health deteriorated. It was more a formula for adrenal burnout, and I spent the winter tired, hungry, having trouble sleeping, emotional, had sugar cravings return, and my eyes got puffy like that of a hypothyroid.

    On water and indigestion:

    I know what you mean by "looked at you like that was ridiculous." At the time I was having problems with indigestion and water – and when I read Vonderplanitz and Monastyrsky, both of which are against drinking water after meals, it strengthened my foolish belief that it was the water and not me. This, of course, is a common mistake – to blame something that gives you trouble as the root of all evil when it's a physiological problem within yourself that makes a perfectly healthy substance (like water) unsuitable.

    Pay attention to the indigestion. When you find something that helps it subside – like a change in diet or lifestyle, then you'll know you're on the right track. The indigestion is not caused by water. Water just aggravates it. Indigestion is something that comes about from hormonal changes (like that associated with childbirth), or from years of poor health practices. Keep us posted as to what you find. I know eating more carbs and overall calories and removing my prior emphasis on animal proteins helped a bunch. But it didn't fix itself overnight.

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  10. Matt,

    I'm curious, what did you eat to gain five pounds?

    I've gained at least 10 pounds so far on a higher calorie diet :-/. I'm sure that some weight is more water/intestine related, but I don't think that much is. I'm hoping my metabolism will kick in enough to start using my body fat, but I might end up having to use some dessicated thyroid.

    I was adjusted for a hiatal hernia on Monday. I definitely had it, and since, things haven't been dramatic, but have definitely been better. Digestion seems to be a bit better, less constipation, no more palpitations, and better breathing, among other things. Many thanks to Troy for letting me know about hiatal hernias. If you are in Western NC by any chance, Dr. Kiefer adjusts for hiatal hernias and is generally a great chiropractor overall.

    Mostly to chlOe:

    As far as I know, Ray Peat is against beef/pork fat that is conventionally raised due to PUFAs. Is your tallow from grass fed cows, or do you not mind it being conventional?

    Finding raw milk in NC is hard, I used to go to Spartanburg, SC to get it every once in a while. I found out about a family that sells it as pet milk just a couple miles away every Friday; it's a nice change. I think I have some issues with the milk though, so I just give Heather half a gallon a week and am avoiding it personally for now. I'm kind of impressed that she finds the pasteurized, homogenized milk almost repulsive now :-). The same farm sells eggs; they are just amazing. Quite orange and nice, eggs *really* vary in quality a lot more than I thought they did.

    Back to everyone else:

    The other day I had some chicken sausage with I think about 4g sugars per sausage (I had two). It had organic sugar and maple syrup. This made my blood sugar rise reasonably; I was really surprised. I tried some unpasteurized orange juice as per chlOe's recommendations (I actually forgot if she specified pasteurized or not though). I had 4 cups at a time, and my blood sugar hardly rose at all, if anything. I also agree that potassium could have something to do with it, but there is *definitely* some drug-like effect with refined sugar from my understanding and personal experience. I really don't think it's just a lack of nutrients or anything. Maybe it's the lack of some protective substance that helps protect from the fructose or glucose, but I'm not sure what it is. It just really seems to have a drug like effect, as Matt has said. I have noticed some blood sugar influences more from starchy fruits and sweet potatoes, but nothing does it like a couple grams of refined sugar.

    I like Matt's explanation for tooth decay as being related to blood sugar levels and glucose tolerance. That makes sense to me, quite a bit. I don't think sugar directly causes tooth decay so much, but that it's more the long-term exposure to high blood sugar levels in the saliva. Very interesting.

    Enough of my writing for now. Thanks to Matt for all of the posts :-). It looks like he's gotten back into commenting again too, which is quite nice.

    Thanks,
    Teran

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  11. Actually, pigs are incredibly different than cows. I have read from Peat that grass fed beef liver contains much more vitamin A – which makes sense because the liver would have to work less if it was not constantly working because of corn or grain or other things that cows don't naturally eat.
    Specifically, cows are ruminants, which means they have bacteria that can eliminate unsaturated fats in their complex digestive system, without destroying vitamin E. Pigs, however, like us, are omnivores and store what fat they are given. So if a pig is fed large amounts of vegetable oil, most of it's fat will turn out polyunsaturated.
    Though, no, I don't eat conventional tallow; and I prefer not to eat anything conventional, and I do eat tallow that is grass fed. I'd rather eat something that's the healthiest, or near the healthiest, that it can be. With conventional, you never know what they did to that animal – hormones, diet, abuse or lack of space..what have you. The local milk I get, when I can't get raw, might supplement their cows with grain, but it's definitely not the same as conventional farming techniques.

    Actually the "co-op"(they say technically it isn't one) that I get my tallow from is the one I get raw milk from. I just contacted chapter leaders of NC and they directed me towards it. I can e-mail you the website if you want it. The farm they get all this stuff from is an Amish farm in PA. I've contacted a few people who have raw goat milk..but cows tastes better for sure. NC really needs to loosen it's ass on raw milk laws. We almost had a law passed that would require all "pet milk" being sold be dyed with charcoal.

    I have read that potassium is a bigger factor in controlling blood sugar than insulin..among other things. I'm writing a post about all that sugar stuff now, actually! There's a lot of misconceptions about blood glucose..for suuuuuuree..

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  12. chlOe:

    Interesting, that's probably the most interesting cows vs pigs thing I've read. And it makes sense for the most part. I would really like it if I could just buy a 5lb bag of nice, fatty burgers not having to worry about all of the antibiotics in the tissues (but at least it's not super high in PUFAs, which is still debatable for me). Do you know if Ray Peat recommends any vitamin E over none at all? I have some alpha-type (I don't know what it's called, alpha-ty~ something) around; not sure if I should supplement with it or not. I think the mixed ty~ variety is more recommended.

    It would be nice to hear about the co-op if it's not super far from where I am. I'm in western NC (Hendersonville, around Asheville); if it's around Raleigh, I'd definitely have no luck with it. Thanks.

    My raw milk seller also has goat milk. I like both, but I do think cow's milk tastes a little better. That charcoal dying law was scary, I'm glad it didn't pass. I'll have to read your blog post when it comes out.

    team smith:

    I'm sure you can have your weight managed fine and have hypothyroidism, just that it's rare. What might be happening is your caloric intake is fairly balanced at your metabolic level, so while you aren't gaining weight, you could in quite a caloric deficiency. Part of my definition of "healthy" is when you can eat nearly unlimited real food (potatoes, rice, butter, meat, fruit, just not refined sugars and junk), and maintain your weight just fine. Hopefully you won't have any issues gaining weight if you eat more, but you might. Although perhaps weight gain issues for people with low metabolisms stem more from insulin resistance, yet people with low metabolisms but with adequate insulin sensitivity would gain energy but not weight.

    Everyone:

    I thought I would mention a couple things I had not mentioned much or haven't said yet. Since I think a year or so, I've had a very weak sense of smell. I can usually smell cigarettes and chemical smells just fine (unfortunately), but I have a really hard time with most food smells. I hope it's not throwing my cooking off.

    Also, I think I have some issues with my Eustachian tube, due to issues with ear pressure. Ever since I lived on the Big Island, Hawaii, I've had ear pressurization issues. The smell to me sounds like hypothyroidism, but I'm not sure. Any suggestions?

    Also, what does everyone think about cookware? I'm a bit hesitant towards non-stick teflon and such, but I'm not sure. Ray Peat also warns about excessive iron, so I'm unsure of the cast iron pans (but he could be wrong; my guess is that if the body is healthy it will filter out excess iron in a natural form just fine). My parents brought home some pre-seasoned cast iron which was probably seasoned with vegetable oil, so I'm a little worried. My first try with ground beef cooked up nicely though.

    Thanks,
    Teran

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  13. In reply to the Vitamin E question, I'm guessing Peat would say something along the lines of avoid allergens that can be apart of different brands. Not all people react to them the same, but, I'm guessing if you tried it to look out for headaches or nose problems or digestive upset..you know, common allergy troubles.

    And yeah, I pick up my orders in Raleigh. It's in the triangle. But when I was doing research, a lot of the farms I came across were definitely near Asheville.. it's pretty much all city-suburb down here, so most people with farms are pretty far away. There may be people near you who are apart of this "co-op" since I believe it's either state-wide or partly nation wide. Again, I can e-mail you the link to the site.

    And if I were you I would read a bit more about iron. It's quite interesting what the body will do with it..and storing it in the tissues and letting it build up is definitely not good. I just think it's wise to play things safe when you're not fully "healed" or whatever. However, when feeling better or the best, that's when I would start to experiment with stuff. I don't know if I would go as far as to intentionally try to block iron absorption, but..there's some good points against it for sure that I think are worth reading about. You can't just go by how the basics sound to you ("iron is bad") – but actually read about the information, you know?

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  14. Hi Matt, thanks for the comment about energy levels during Season 6. Bonehead me, I meant to ask about season 7 :) Can you address this past summers performance in more detail? Thanks.

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